Questions and Answers about Arthritis Pain
Excess pounds put extra stress on weight-bearing joints such as
the knees or hips. Studies have shown that overweight women who lost an average
of 11 pounds substantially reduced the development of osteoarthritis in their
knees. In addition, if osteoarthritis has already affected one knee, weight
reduction will reduce the chance of it occurring in the other knee.
Swimming, walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, and
range-of-motion exercises may reduce joint pain and stiffness. In addition,
stretching exercises are helpful. A physical therapist can help plan an
exercise program that will give you the most benefit. (The National Arthritis
and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse has a separate
fact sheet on arthritis and exercise. See the end of this fact sheet for
In select patients with arthritis, surgery may be necessary.
The surgeon may perform an operation to remove the synovium (synovectomy),
realign the joint (osteotomy), or in advanced cases replace the damaged joint
with an artificial one. Total joint replacement has provided not only dramatic
relief from pain but also improvement in motion for many people with
What Alternative Therapies May Relieve Arthritis Pain?
Many people seek other ways of treating their disease, such as
special diets or supplements. Although these methods may not be harmful in and
of themselves, no research to date shows that they help. Nonetheless, some
alternative or complementary approaches may help you to cope or reduce some of
the stress of living with a chronic illness. If the doctor feels the approach
has value and will not harm you, it can be incorporated into your treatment
plan. However, it is important not to neglect your regular health care or
treatment of serious symptoms.
How Can You Cope with Arthritis Pain?
The long-term goal of pain management is to help you cope with
a chronic, often disabling disease. You may be caught in a cycle of pain,
depression, and stress. To break out of this cycle, you need to be an active
participant with the doctor and other health care professionals in managing
your pain. This may include physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy,
occupational therapy, biofeedback, relaxation techniques (for example, deep
breathing and meditation), and family counseling therapy.
Another technique is to substitute distraction for pain. Focus
your attention on things that you enjoy. Imagine a peaceful setting and
wonderful physical sensations. Thinking about something that is enjoyable can
help you relax and become less stressed. Find something that will make you
laugh -- a cartoon, a funny movie, or even a new joke. Try to put some joy back
into your life. Even a small change in your mental image may break the pain
cycle and provide relief.
The Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center
at Stanford University, supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), has developed an Arthritis Self-Help
Course that teaches people with arthritis how to take a more active part in
their arthritis care. The Arthritis Self-Help Course is taught by the Arthritis
Foundation and consists of a 12- to 15-hour program that includes lectures on
osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, exercise, pain management, nutrition,
medication, doctor-patient relationships, and nontraditional treatment.
You may want to contact some of the organizations listed at the
end of this fact sheet for additional information on the Arthritis Self-Help
Course and on coping with pain, as well as for information on support groups in